Tensions easily beset movements like the Restoration Movement. External tensions arise because such movements often foster misunderstanding, especially when preachers or leaders believe the movement condemns them. You would not expect the same tensions to arise from within.
In this section we look at two causes of tension.
Thomas Campbell's "Thirteen Propositions" held that opinion should not preclude fellowship. He realized some opinions might be God's truth, but he refused to bind them upon others beyond their capacity to understand. Even the casual reader sees that Alexander Campbell attacked those who took hard positions on matters of opinion. The Restoration Movement also knew those who emphasized their opinions over Scripture's clear teaching.
What is an opinion? Campbell defined it as follows:
Knowledge is our own experience; faith, our assuracce [sic] of the experience of others; and opinion, our persuasion of the probability of a matter which we neither know or believe. In one sentence, then, knowledge is the certainty of our experience; faith, the certainty of the experience of other persons; opinion, the probability of our own reasonings. I know that honey is sweet; I believe that William IV is dead; and I am of opinion that the North American Indians are of Abraham's extraction.
Opinionism, then, deals with the liberty to propagate one's own opinions. This becomes dangerous, however, when we allow our opinions to become an unwritten creed. Let us see some examples.
A. Dr. John Thomas (ca. 1835). Dr. Thomas insisted that reimmersion must occur for salvation. Thomas maintained that Baptists were immersed for the wrong reason and should be immersed by "true" Disciples. Alexander Campbell took issue with this opinion in the 1835 Millennial Harbinger. Dr. Thomas left the movement to form the cult known today as Christadelphians. They see Jesus as less than God, salvation as universal, and they own no buildings or other structures. See Frank S. Mead's Handbook of Denominations for more information about them.
B. The Lunenburg Letter (ca. 1837). A very serious problem arose when a lady from Lunenburg, Virginia (now West Virginia) wrote Campbell a letter which he published in the 1837 volume of Millennial Harbinger. The letter, dated July 8, 1837 included a question concerning one of Campbell's comments in an earlier issue. Campbell suggested Christians existed among the sects. Campbell argued, you see, as did all early leaders, that there were sincere Christians within the denominations. Campbell and the others refused to condemn all members of denominational bodies.
Some of Campbell's readers in and around Lunenburg, perhaps the writer herself, held the opinion that baptism was a "water regeneration." Restorationists in Lunenburg reached the opinion that baptism was the only essential to salvation.
Campbell's answers in the Harbinger satisfied no one. To some readers he appeared too narrow, to others far too latitudinarian. Since the writing of these articles two positions arose. One position, advocating "open membership," holds that Campbell did not say baptism was immersion only and essential for salvation. More conservative interpreters argue that Campbell said Christians must be obedient in all things. The basic problem is not Scripture, it rests in an appeal to Campbell's opinion! Suffice it to say, both opinions remain with the Restoration Movement.
C. Cooperation and the Churches (1830 f.) The Mahoning Baptist Association's dissolution greatly disappointed Campbell. He hoped not only to remain part of a normal denominational body but also he wanted churches to cooperate together on projects they could not handle alone.
Campbell himself injected opinions here. He argued for cooperation quite early. Some in the acapella segment think that a healthy Campbell would not advocate cooperation. He always seemed to vehemently denounce such extra-congregational structures in the Christian Baptist. So, it is argued, Campbell became senile and others led him to cooperation. I think acapella historian Earl I. West presents a more honest argument. West simply says that Campbell's apparent change of mind was wrong.
Even as organizations began forming, others opposed them. Men like Jacob Creath Jr., Benjamin Franklin and Tolbert Fanning voiced the opinions that the brotherhood should avoid cooperative efforts.
D. Jesse B. Ferguson (1852). Jesse B. Ferguson provides our last illustration. Ferguson advocated that Scripture offered a second chance for the dead. Ferguson went beyond that, though, advocating spiritualism and communication with the dead. This fact drew Campbell's attention and ultimately divided the Nashville, Tennessee congregation. For some time afterwards, Ferguson's opinions and speculations caused the Nashville brethren trouble. Only P.S. Fall successfully brought the church out of the doldrums.
Each one of these opinions and speculations left their mark on the Restoration Movement. Some controversies dug in so deeply that they are still felt. Some erupted later in slightly different forms to continue causing disruption and division.
The nation's growing sectionalism also caused tension. I'll say more about this later, too, but the Civil War and the issues surrounding it left its mark on the movement.
A. Slavery. The slavery issue hit the movement early. Northerners understandably vocally opposed slavery. Once Northwestern Christian University, now Butler University, began, it took an open stand for abolition. Strong language coming from NCU offended southern brethren.
The English charged Campbell with advocating slavery during his trip to England and Scotland in the early 1840s. Campbell felt the issue was a matter of opinion and refused to take a strong stand either way. One English preacher, because of some jealousy, charged Campbell with advocating slavery and he ended up in jail for a time. During his incarceration Campbell fell ill and finished his trip with some difficulty.
The slavery issue remained just below the surface for some time. Most brethren advocated neutrality because Scripture did not speak to it. Many others called for gradual emancipation. Even Campbell supported the American Colonization Society, a society which bought African slaves and sent them to Liberia.
B. Missionary Society. As I mentioned earlier, one of the early missionary societies openly resolved to support Northern armies during the war. The society issued a resolution to that effect in 1863. Since most missionary society advocates lived in the north, except for Kentucky which was a border state, southerners took exception.
Sectionalism drew heavily upon the tendency to elevate opinions until finally, after the war, the Restoration Movement divided. I think it is important for you to notice that the roots for division went down long before the issues arose.